Apr 242011
 

Brian McLaren offers up a song about how resurrection liberates us from the cycle of violence and vengeance.

Scot McKnight reminds us that the stone table has cracked.

Richard Beck has written a great piece on how resurrection – a story of the “victim” who still lives – shouldn’t be good news, but – miraculously – it is.

And in his daily email devotional, Richard Rohr says this:

The Risen Jesus is the lasting image and eternal icon of what God is going to do everywhere for everybody in all of time.  God’s exact job description is this, according to St. Paul: I am the God “who turns death into life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17).  Starting in Genesis, Yahweh is always creating something out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo), which becomes the bedrock meaning of grace.  Jesus stands forever as God’s promise, guarantee, and lifetime warranty of what God has always been about and will forever do: turn crucifixions into resurrections!

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Apr 042010
 

res%20son[1] Over the years, I have found a lot of books useful on my spiritual walk, but very few (perhaps no more than 1 or 2) have had more influence than NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

RSG arrived at my doorstep at a time when I was ready to piece together some big questions about God, the nature of scripture, and the Christian hope. I expected RSG to provide a piece of that puzzle. However, when I started making my way through Wright’s massive volume, I quickly discovered that I was getting more than I bargained for. Sprinkled along the trail of Wright’s primary argument in the book – a stunning defense of the historical validity of the resurrection of Jesus – Wright lays out in massive detail an entire theological framework for understanding resurrection that dramatically sharpened my thinking, beliefs, and view of the subject. As an academic work, it really is a tour de force.

My only objection to RSG was that it isn’t the sort of book that you recommend to your friends for casual reading. After finishing it, I felt like Wright needed to create a parallel book that (a) was more friendly to lay readers and that (b) explored the implications of Jesus’ resurrection, as he presented it, more directly. About the time I finished the book, I was pleased to find Surprised by Hope – a book that does just that – on Amazon. If this review piques your interest enough to explore further, but you are intimidated by the task of trying to work your way through an expansive academic treatment of the subject, Surprised by Hope is a great place to go.

My goal in this series of posts is to outline of Wright’s argument – in both books – in favor of the historical veracity of the resurrection of Jesus. This won’t be a traditional summary/review, however. Wright develops the argument inductively, and brilliantly, but you have to be very patient to follow him along many trails before his view takes shape. The book is much like a long, sometimes difficult hike that slowly brings into view a breathtaking vista. In this series, I’m going to take a deductive approach to the subject – allowing the argument, rather than the evidence, to shape its structure. I think that will make it easier to follow things, and I will do my best to translate the gist of his argument into cleaner propositions.

Wright’s central argument is this: that we can know with reasonable historical certainty that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. He does not posit that it can be known as an absolute truth, but he believes that we can know it in the same way, for example, that we know whether or not Washington crossed the Delaware. The point is thus not strictly apologetic – to prove his proposition to be absolutely correct. Rather, he says, the evidence ought to be enough to cause us to want to investigate the truth of it ourselves – by immersing ourselves in the practice and traditions of Christianity. If we can be convinced that the sun has risen with some degree of reasonable certainty, he suggests, we will probably want to open the curtains to investigate for ourselves whether it is true.

The structure of Wrights argument is a very traditional, disjunctive syllogism. That is, he offers a list of potential explanations for the early Christian account of resurrection, and argues that the most reasonable explanation of that account is that it really did happen.  Specifically, his argument rejects the following alternatives:

  • The resurrection accounts were meant as parable or metaphor, not history
  • The resurrection accounts were intentionally fabricated
  • The resurrection accounts were a result of hysteria or illusion
  • The resurrection accounts falsely assumed Jesus had died

Of all of these, the first and second are treated as more credible, and they get the most attention in the books.

I should also note that, by “early Christian account of resurrection,” Wright refers not only to the resurrection of Jesus, but to the overall belief of the community that there will be a general resurrection of the dead at some point in the future. That the Christian community immediately and universally adopted this view (one that was in opposition to other strongly and widely held positions) is also, he will show, a remarkable testimony to a series of credible experiences of the risen Jesus within their community.

If, at the end, one is still unconvinced because of a presupposition that it isn’t possible for a person to rise from the dead, Wright will respect that position. However, he warns, this presupposition isn’t supported by…

  • The fact that we “know better” than they did because of modern science (they, too, knew and believed as strongly as we do that dead people don’t get up and walk around); or
  • The lack of historical evidence (which is as extensive as you will find for a massive array of other well-recognized events in history)

I am going to try and flesh out these arguments in a little more detail over four or five more posts, so stay tuned.

Apr 022010
 

Sundown on Good Friday is a time of God-forsakenness. Yet it is also a time that is pregnant with hope, not only for personal redemption, but for all of humanity.

Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.

In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.

All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

“He trusts in the Lord;
let the Lord rescue him.

Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother’s breast.

From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.

They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

But you, O Lord, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

Deliver my life from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you.

You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.

The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.

Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.

They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn—
for he has done it.

Mar 282010
 

51PSR1C9SYL._SL500_AA300_[1] About a week ago, I mentioned in a tweet that Sheila and I are teaching Sunday School out of The Last Week, a remarkable book by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan about the final days of Jesus’ life, as told in the Gospel of Mark.

If you are interested in marking the days of Holy Week through prayer and meditation, a great way to do it is by reading through Mark’s account. We have put together a brief devotional guide for our class to enable them to do just that, and I thought I would share it here.

___________

Some Background. Jesus lived during tumultuous times in Roman-occupied Israel. The Romans, in cooperation with the authorities in the Jewish temple had set up a system of economic and political domination that caused a few, elite in the cities to become very rich, while economic conditions in the countryside were worsening dramatically. Jews had a love/hate relationship with the temple – they were dependent on the system of sacrifices that occurred there, but those in charge of the temple endorsed, and even benefitted from a harsh system of oppression. Jesus’ ministry was almost exclusively directed at the impoverished masses in the countryside. None of his ministry – except when he came to Jerusalem – took place among the wealthy landowners who inhabited the cities. His message was a political one – it taught of a “kingdom of God” in which, among other things, the poor were treated with justice. For Jesus to come to Jerusalem during a major feast, being hailed as a king by a large crowd of beaten-down followers, must have been a very frightening thing to those in charge of the temple.

What Happens During Mark’s “Passion Week”? Mark’s take on the “passion” of Jesus is different from what we might imagine. Jesus is passionate about justice for those who have been oppressed and marginalized by the corrupt temple authorities, and he is ultimately killed because he confronts this system, and refuses to back down. For Mark, the point is not the amount of suffering that Jesus underwent (this is normally what we think of as Jesus’ “passion”), rather Mark focuses on Jesus’ passion for God’s kingdom, and it is that passion that gets him killed. To walk through the Passion Week with Mark requires us to be confronted by the same Jesus, to reflect on the ways that we may ourselves be involved in modern-day versions of domination systems, and to contemplate what it means to oppose those systems. What role can we play in liberating those around us who also find themselves in the margins and shadows of society?

Here are our readings for this week:

Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-11). Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a planned, political demonstration (see the story that immediately proceeds this in Mark 10:46-52 to see how Jesus had pre-arranged this event). It invokes Zecheriah 14:4 9:9, in which the King of Peace rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. It should contrasted with the intimidating display of force that is involved when a Roman Governor comes into town, mounted on a horse and surrounded by a regiment of a brutal, Roman-trained killing machine.

Monday (Mark 11:12-19). Jesus goes into the temple and shuts down the process of converting currency, something that is necessary for the temple system of sacrifices to take place. He condemns the temple authorities openly, accusing them of using the temple as a “den” while the undertake robbery outside the temple. To understand more about his reference to a “den of robbers,” read Jeremiah 7. If one engages in injustice outside the temple, one cannot expect to find God’s protection inside it. This story is sandwiched between a two-part story of a fig tree that is cursed by Jesus, and that then withers. It seems to suggest that, in the same way the fig tree is cursed by Jesus and then destroyed, so the temple – which is “cursed” by Jesus on this day – will meet its end.

Tuesday (Mark 11:20-13:37). In this long text, Jesus is confronted by the people in charge of the temple, who question his authority, and then attempt to humiliate him by asking “trick” questions that are designed to trap him in his words. It doesn’t work. Note especially Jesus’ story about the wicked tenants (12:1-12). Again, he is suggesting that the “end” of the temple has now come. At the end of the day (Chapter 13), Jesus foretells that the temple soon meet its destruction. The actual destruction of the temple in 70 CE was probably happening around the time Mark wrote his gospel.

Wednesday (Mark 14:1-11). On this day, a woman pours expensive perfume on Jesus in an act of devotion, an event that Mark views as Jesus’ preparation for burial – a sign that his fate is now sealed. Notice how, when the disciples object to such extravagance, Jesus makes a statement which assumes that his disciples will always be present in the midst of poverty (“The poor you will always have with you,” v. 7).

Thursday (Mark 14:12-72). Notice again the elaborate plans Jesus has already made for Passover, as his disciples are led, in almost a clandestine way, to the place where the meal is to be held. There, he tells them of his coming death, and its meaning, but alerts them that he will be raised, and that he will later meet them in Galilee. Note how everyone gradually deserts Jesus. Eventually, even Peter turns on him. Though later editors will add in additional stories, this is the last that we see or hear from any of the eleven in Mark’s original gospel.

Friday (Mark 15:1-47). Today, Jesus is executed and buried. Notice, during this reading, how God’s judgment now comes on the temple. The land becomes dark (see Amos 8:9), and the temple curtain is torn in two (15:38), seeming to suggest that God has “left” the temple. Jesus himself quotes from a scripture (Psalm 22), in which it at first appears that God has deserted him, but which later indicates that God will vindicate him. Even the Roman soldier, a symbol of the Imperial domination system, declares Jesus – not Caesar – to be the true Son of God (v. 39).

Saturday (Nothing). Nothing is said in Mark’s gospel about the Sabbath day. This is a day to sit in silence, reflecting on the sober, reality of Jesus’ mortality. He lies silent, in the tomb.